Acute Pharyngitis

Sore Throat, Infective Pharyngitis, Pneumococcal Pharyngitis, Staphylococcal Pharyngitis, Suppurative Pharyngitis, Viral Pharyngitis

What is Acute pharyngitis?

Acute pharyngitis is a painful inflammation of the throat (pharynx). Most often caused by a viral infection, it can also be caused by bacteria such as streptococci, M. pneumoniae, Neisseria gonorrhea, chlamydia, and corynebacterium haemolyticus. Viral pharyngitis is often associated with the common cold or influenza. It may also be an early feature of mononucleosis. Strep throat is a painful infection of the throat caused by the group A Streptococcus bacteria. Diptheria is a rare, but serious cause of bacterial pharyngitis. Pharyngitis can also be caused by swallowing substances that burn, irritate, or scratch the lining of the throat. Smoking or excess alcohol consumption can aggravate pharyngitis.

How is it diagnosed?

Pharyngitis signs and symptoms

Symptoms may include sore throat of varying duration, discomfort on swallowing, headache, earache, slight fever, and tender or swollen lymph nodes in the neck. In severe cases, the soft palate and throat may swell, making breathing and swallowing difficult.

Physical exam: Most sore throats appear inflamed. Although it may be difficult to visually differentiate viral infections from bacterial infections, characteristics more common to streptococcal infections include fever, white patches on the tonsils, and swollen tender nodes.

Tests: Culture of a throat swab can be used to identify the responsible organism.

How is pharyngitis treated?

Pharyngitis usually clears up on its own, particularly it is caused by a viral infection. Antibiotics are not useful in the treatment of viral infection. Treatment is directed towards pain relief and may include gargling with warm salt water and taking painkillers (analgesics). Particularly sore or prolonged sore throats are cultured to identify the causative organism. Treatment is with the appropriate antibiotic for bacterial infection. Culture of sore throats is particularly directed towards the prevention of rheumatic fever, a complication of group A Streptococcus infections.


Information Brand Generic Label Rating Amoxil Amoxicillin On-Label Zithromax Azithromycin On-Label
buy Ampicillin Principen Ampicillin On-Label Augmentin Amoxicillin/Clavulanate On-Label

Keflex (Cephalexin), Cleocin (Clindamycin), Ilosone (Erythromycin), Decadron (Dexamethasone)

What might complicate it?

Untreated streptococcal throat infections may lead to a serious inflammation in the kidneys (glomerulonephritis). Another serious complication, but with low incidence, is rheumatic fever from group A strep infections. Rheumatic fever can result in damage to the heart and its valves, even though the damage may not show up for several years.

Predicted outcome

Viral pharyngitis usually clears up on its own. Bacterial pharyngitis responds well to the appropriate antibiotic treatment.


Conditions with similar symptoms include inflammation of the tonsils (tonsillitis), epiglottis (epiglottiditis), or infectious mononucleosis.

Appropriate specialists

Otolaryngologist, internist, and infectious disease specialist.

Seek Medical Attention

  • You have symptoms of pharyngitis.
  • The following occur during treatment:
    • Breathing or swallowing difficulty.
    • Fever; severe headache.
    • Thick mucus drainage from the nose.
    • Cough that produces green, yellow, brown or bloody sputum.
    • Skin rash.
    • Dark urine.
    • Chest pain.

Last updated 15 December 2015


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